Saturday, February 12, 2011

severe clear

Our tired guests have gone, most of them not so much done in by our evening but by the one before, spent at a variety of excessive activities, some at home, some out dancing at one ball or another, or in the case of MtMn, two straight nights of performing. We celebrated his birthday in style. He of course cooked up a storm, a vat of beef-rabbit-vegetable-and-fire chili on the stove, fresh baked bread alongside the cheese and olives. MSMB brought her signature poppyseed cake, which is a thing of heavenly beauty wrought from poppyseeds, chocolate, orange and lemon peel, and I'm sure some kind of magic. Friends brought good wine and champagne, CM brought hard-to-find beer, and on top of everything we found out it was the real birthday of our new friend PR. Conversations ranged from ancient courtships to bullfighting to the weirdest thing you ever ate (winner: a big scoop from the organ bowl after an at-home sheep slaughter in Kosovo) to the use and misuse of status updates. We belly-laughed and skirted some tender emotions, sang for the birthday men and ate too much, and wrapped the evening up on the early side. Just past midnight and the dishwasher hums in the next room, MtMn snores at the other end of the apartment, and I know our friends will sleep well in tomorrow.

It was good to have a party in our usual style, marking not only the big birthday but the smaller milestone of six months here in Vienna. I rinsed the soap from our motley glassware and thought of so many wonderful gatherings of friends in the many homes we've shared. Ten years ago, in a joint celebration of the big four-oh with two dear friends also hitting that mark, we packed about fifty people into our Manhattan apartment. We stored the beer on the fire escape and heated the place to tropical with the constant cooking in the kitchen and the crowding of the guests. My birthday always came at the end of our Berkshire summers, and our parties at the house there were epic all-day celebrations involving unbelievable amounts of wine and food, poker, and one unforgettable birthday cake courtesy of Madama Butterfly and her best friend. Dinner parties in Seattle, jambalaya and homebrew in Houston, so many nights filled with friends, camaraderie, confessions, tomfoolery, gluttony, and joy.

Now I've straightened our chairs and spooned leftovers into Tupperware, and I've felt the expected pang tonight as the laughter got loud. I felt it later when the conversation fragmented, and I feel it now in the pleasure of remembering celebrations past. I miss Dionysus in this ready guise, loosening the tongue, slipping the bonds of time.  I'll never again float through the walls of an evening, never again enjoy the fragility of a fuzzy head having gladly paid that price to attain a kind of transcendence. But there's a sweetness I savor as I survey our clean rooms, not quite ready to go to bed yet. With a clear mind I can think on the gifts of many years and the gifts of this evening, and I know that what remains will be sharper and stronger. I miss the sensation of being lifted out of myself because it's what I remember most about so many of those grand nights.

And looking at the precious details of this one small night, I know I want to remember them all. Less than that is not enough, never was enough, will never be enough.

That's clear.


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